It’s almost too obvious. You grow the tomatoes, you grow the basil, you make the cheese, you form the dough–pizza from the garden! This, of course, is a great project to do with the family on a rainy afternoon in late summer.
This was my first time making mozzarella cheese and it was surprisingly easy. Of course you need to buy the rennet and the citric acid (also sold as ‘sour salt’) and the freshest milk you can get (we used milk from our local farm stand but it can be regular store-bought milk, just make sure it is NOT ultra-pasteurized). A high-quality sea salt will be useful for flavoring and you can also add any herbs you like from the garden. You will also need a reliable food thermometer that is easy to read, a large pot that heats evenly (I used Le Crueset), a slotted spoon and a colander. Some clean kitchen gloves will also help as you must manipulate the cheese while it is still very hot and you don’t want to burn yourself.
I am not going to go through all the steps for cheese-making here as there are very good guides elsewhere on the web. The first major step for mozzarella is heating and curdling the milk with citric acid and then rennet until it divides into curds and whey. If you are planning to sit on a tuffet near a spider you can eat them just like this but they are apparently an acquired taste; my kids did not like them. The next step is draining the whey from the curds, then finally heating and stretching the curds to form the cheese. So no big deal, right? But a lot of things can go wrong before a delicious, stretchy, creamy mozzarella is created–the milk can get too hot and boil before it curdles, coagulation can go wrong, it might not be properly drained, etc…
With such a precise, complex process, it’s a wonder people ever figured out how to make cheese. Actually, since rennet is found naturally within the stomachs of young mammals, it doesn’t seem such a stretch to imagine how a bit of goat carcass fell into a vat of milk heating on the fire and since no food was every wasted, well, someone decided to eat the stuff and liked it. Or maybe they left it out first until it hardened, and then they realized that it was a good way to preserve milk. Anyway, as an archaeologist I can say that this ‘secondary product revolution’ (first larger-scale use of domesticated animals more for milk products like cheese rather than meat) happened first around the 4th millennium B.C. in the Near East (spreading to Europe a bit later.) So I guess cheese-making has been around for a while. Seems like we’ve had enough time to get it right, even if my mozzarella was a bit hard.
Anyway, what to do with a hard but tasty mozzarella, some over-ripe tomatoes and the final pungent basil leaves? Make pizza of course! Of course it was the most delicious pizza ever because all the ingredients were home-made and everyone got to design his very own pie.